The clients of Mrs. Data Okorodudu are still stunned by the alluring outfits that define her brand. Okorodudu has also made her mark in the entertainment, hospitality and showbiz industries and won numerous awards within and outside the country. She is a great, great grand-daughter of King Jaja of Opobo, in River State, widow of Jeye Okorodudu and a trendy grandmother. In this interview, she looks back at the beautiful relationship she had with her late hubby and how she has been able to cope with the loss of a husband, of who she says, “he loved me to pieces.”
You seem to have slowed down on the runway. What is the reason and what can we expect next?
After a while in the fashion industry, I decided to open a lounge known as ‘Seven Seasons’. My diversion in other businesses came together because I have been into entertainment, hospitality and creativity which involve the arts and showbiz world. We just finished the historical play of King Jaja of Opobo with several invitations from schools to come and showcase for their students. For me, the foray into the hospitality industry is like the fashion thing taken to the next level; I have showcased my fashion creativity in Africa and foreign countries and won several awards; and I think I should leave the younger ones to continue from where I stopped. Lounge business is a very complicated and demanding business. Seven Seasons lounge is not a ‘mama put’ joint, nor a beer parlour, but not one of those five-star places meant for the rich alone, no. I tried to make it a family-friendly place where other activities take place. Just like we had a pancake night last week before the start of the Lenten period, we also have fashion shows etc. It’s not just a lounge but comprises of other activities.
You have a ring on your wedding finger. Have you remarried?
No I have not remarried. They are my wedding rings and I still wear them despite the fact that my husband has passed on. I cannot throw them away. It depends on my mood, they are part of my dress sense. I have gotten used to my wedding rings; I would rather not wear my earrings and wristwatch, but my wedding rings, I do not joke with them.
Where were you when the unfortunate happened?
I was with him in England. We discovered he had leukaemia which we battled for four to five years. It was when he travelled to the United States for a business trip during the flu season that everything came down. We were in England for two years during the challenging period and it was a complicated time. Going through the pains of chemotherapy is not a good sight to behold. From what my husband passed through as a cancer patient, my message is whenever anybody wakes up each morning, say a simple prayer of thanksgiving to God, whether there is money in your bank account or not. Every other thing should be secondary. If you have good health, you have a lot because it was tough for us. We went through it together because he turned me into his favourable nurse; the only thing was that I was not administering injection on him. We were there believing God, adhering to treatment, medication and feeding. His office table was beside him in the hospital. One day he called me and said, “Just promise me you will never cry because we have passed through this together.” I thought it was our normal yapping and joking with each other and I said to him, ‘where you think say you de go? Who told you, you will die?’ He asked me to go and make him a cup of tea and I gave him a bible portion to read while I was making the tea. Within minutes of bringing the tea, he was gone. That day was December 16, my brother’s birthday. I asked him, what do you think you are doing? On one phone click away, my prayer partner was at the other end and it was on speaker, we intensified our prayer and he sluggishly sneezed and came back, then said Ohhh Data, leave me let me go. I asked, where you dey go? Jeye, you sent me to make you tea and you had gone, what about our plans for both of us, our children, all the things you have been telling me, who will do them, don’t try it ooo. He said, “Please tell every man I know that God said they should reconcile with their wives; if not, they cannot make heaven. For you, anything I have done to offend you I am sorry. I kept asking him, where are you going? He was in that condition until past midnight, the next day was 17. A British-Russian lady doctor called me and said, “I do not think your husband will make it, he is no longer responding to treatment, it is just a matter of time. But I kept the faith until he finally slept in the Lord.
I have known my husband all my life and it was not easy at all. I told myself, I would mourn my husband for one whole year, and I am glad I did. Nobody compelled me; no tradition was bound on me. I chose to mourn. I wore black for one year. Stayed out of activities and couldn’t even attend my brother’s wedding because I did not want to bring sadness to spoil somebody’s joyous day, though I made all dresses needed for the occasion. During his burial, for the first time, every member of both families all over the world came together because he was the people’s man.
How did you cope with the challenge of widowhood?
First, I turned to God in prayers. I had a lot of spiritual direction. One thing I learnt with the death of my husband is to keep faith. Since I learnt that, God has been awesome to me and my family. He is really gracious. Sometimes, we pass through trials; it is not to make us sink but to strengthen us. I have emotional strength, I can hold forth with prayers. It has not been easy getting to mourn my husband, taking care of the children and watch the men that think they can come to me because my husband is no longer living. All these I put together and live my life one day at a time.
How did you meet your husband?
We met in school at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos. I was a jambito, while he was in his final year in the same department. In fact I was a victim of ‘October rush’. My husband did not toast me and I never spoke to him. But he kept telling his friends, ‘you see this girl, she will be my wife. I will marry her.’ I didn’t know all these until there his friend held a party somewhere in school. He stopped the party and said no music will be played there unless guys brought his own girl to the party. Meanwhile, I was sleeping in my room in Moremi Hall. Some girls came to wake me up and said, there was a party and said that I should dress up and come with them. I asked whose party? Because I am a very principled person, if I do not get a direct invite, I will not attend a party. He looked for people that knew me and asked them to bring me to the party. So when I saw my class girls, my brother’s friends, they told me I was holding down a party somewhere. Finally, I joined them at the party; he kept me at one corner and made sure I was well taken care of. His eyes were constantly on me. No other boy came near me, the bold ones that came to say, ‘excuse me dance’ he will come and ask me, is anyone bothering me, I would say no. All the other girls became jealous and were asking what was so special about me. At the end of the party, I went back to my room. He made sure I was comfortable on campus and we became friends, and the wide distance started narrowing in.
We became so close fellow students named us Romeo and Juliet. Some students felt we would break up after the first year. By the time we returned for the second year, he had secured a room for me in Moremi Hall, painted it, put velvet wall paper and was very regular on campus even though he had graduated. One of my friends then said to me, ‘Data, I do not see this relationship ending in school; it will go far. Jeye was giving all he could even as a student.
While students would study in class, he made it possible for me to study in the office of a professor which had air-conditioner. He wanted us to get married then, but I told him my family would not allow marriage until after my graduation. With his personality, conduct and character, I was not looking for any other thing in a man. He was more than a boyfriend in school, he was very intelligent, had good family values and loved me to pieces. Immediately I graduated, we got married and I had all my children under 30 years. We went through the rigours of marriage, grew on ourselves, worked together and enjoyed ourselves the little we could until death separated us.
What are your other fond memories of him?
My husband and I were close friends from day one until the last day and we were young people then. He was 25 while I was 21 when we got married. We still had youthful life in us and go out a lot, especially to night clubs to go and dance. I used to be heavily pregnant, close to nine months and follow my husband to a night club. The next day I would deliver my baby and people would scream. Pregnancy is not a sickness rather it is part of being a woman. After sometime, I will bounce back and we would continue from where we stopped. I did not lose my shape because of pregnancies and childbirth. He was a very responsible family man. We were not perfect but the basic respect, trust and love we needed between us was there. We were simply in love. When we newly got married, two of us were babies, so when he asked me to wash his shirt, I fired back, who will wash my own. He called my mum and asked her “Mama, am I not the head of the home? Mama replied “Of course, you are, it is not contestable.” The he would turn to me and say, ‘did you hear what Mama said? She said you should wash my clothes and serve me because I am your husband.’ And I replied, “My friend, I beg shift to one corner.” When we looked back then, we laughed at such jokes.
With your radiant look, any plans for the second missionary journey?
Hmmm! Marriage is not my priority right now. It might be tough because my husband set a very high standard in our relationship that might be difficult for others to fit in. Like I said, he was not a saint, but he was too good a man. I am not also ruling God out of it, but honestly, it might be tough. My husband and I started out as students, grew on each other, built and developed together. The same way he treated me in school was the same way he treated me in marriage until he passed on. But if one wants to get into a second marriage now, the person is coming with his baggage, I am coming with my own baggage; it is not young and not fresh and can never be the same. Right now, I have my friends and well-wishers. There is more to life than friendship and new relationship. One has to be very careful with such decisions since life is not a bed of roses; again, women go through a lot in relationships and marriage, so one must be careful with herself.
How was your growing up? Do you have fond childhood memories?
We had a very happy home while growing up. My parents were quite close, they called each other ‘Mine’. The two of them danced together very often. My Dad had British orientation while my mum was a primary school teacher. My dad used to teach us typical British songs and dance steps. I grew up in a very musical home, there were times my dad would engage us in dancing competition.
We played a lot of Jimmy Cliff and Jim Reeves songs, we didn’t have much of Kenny Rogers or Don Williams, it was much later that Bob Marley came up for us. Music was a very integral part of our growing up in the family. There were days that everybody would fall out for dancing in the sitting room including my parents. It was fun. My parents gave birth to six children, and we came in a mix of girl, boy just like that. So at times, the first senior three would play and dance together because of age; while the second junior team will follow suit. When their friends come around, we all play football and jump together. I would follow them and jump not as not a tomboy but a proper lady. In fact my cousin said, I came out of my mother’s womb with my leg crossed as a lady, yet it does not stop my childhood memories. I used to be my mum’s mirror; I would tell her what to wear for parties and other outings. All that came naturally with me. I like to add a bit of creativity and do things differently.
What makes you a total woman?
I go to the gym to exercise for an hour though not too often. I play table tennis and badminton as well. As a designer, my job makes me sit at a place to sketch a lot, the joints might get stiff if I do not exercise my body and I might get arthritis. Sedentary lifestyle is not good for anybody. So I find time to exercise. I eat but also careful in doing that. But my nature has not been a bulky one, even with pregnancies, I was not massive.
What do you hate?
Three places I hate to go to are police stations, court and labour rooms though I went through it. But that pain is not funny.